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National Earthquake Hazards Reductions Program (10-26-04)

Natural disasters, including earthquakes, cause damage that impacts communities across the country. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) is an example of a federal program that through broad based participation attempts to mitigate the effects of earthquakes. Member agencies in NEHRP are the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The agencies focus on research and development in areas such as the science of earthquakes, earthquake performance of buildings and other structures, societal impacts, and emergency response and recovery. NEHRP is now up for reauthorization, having last been authorized in 2000.

Most Recent Action

On October 25, President Bush signed the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2004. Known as H.R. 2608, this new public law reauthorizes the program for five years, moving it from the jurisdiction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The bill also authorizes a new National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program for three years. $900 million would be spent over the next five years on implementing earthquake hazard reduction measures as well as funding earthquake research activities such as the Advanced National Seismic System. A pleased Representative Nick Smith (R-MI) said, "Over the past two weeks, significant earthquake events in California and Washington have garnered our attention and concern. Thanks to NEHRP-supported monitoring equipment managed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Science Foundation, scientists have been able to collect an unprecedented harvest of data from both of these geologic events.”(10/26/04)

Previous Action

The House Science Committee passed H.R. 2608 by a voice vote on July 22nd. The final bill included a manager's amendment offered by Research Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI) based on input received on the original bill from the affected federal agencies and external constituents. The NEHRP Coalition, including the American Geological Institute, sent a letter of support to Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) for the amended bill. The committee also accepted an amendment offered by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to "ensure that research money goes to diverse institutions." Rep. Dennis Moore (D-KS) sought to include a version of his wind hazard bill -- H.R. 2020, the Hurricane, Tornado, and Related Hazards Research Act -- as an amendment but withdrew the request after receiving an assurance from Boehlert that H.R. 2020 would be considered by the committee this Congress.

A committee press release listed the bill's major provisions as "(1) establishment of an Interagency Coordinating Committee to manage NEHRP planning and coordination, to be chaired by the Director of NIST [designating NIST as the lead agency]; (2) establishment of an external Advisory Committee of non-Federal stakeholders to provide suggestions for improvements in NEHRP; (3) reauthorization of funds for completion of the Advanced National Seismic System, an integrated seismic monitoring network that was authorized by the Science Committee three years ago but has yet to receive adequate funding; and (4) significant funding increases for NIST, reflecting the call for increased emphasis on promoting the adoption into practice of hazard reduction applications."

The press release quoted bill sponsor Smith: "I believe that taxpayer funds for this Program, if directed to the right priorities and implemented as a true interagency program, can be leveraged many times over. It is a very important program that we forget about all too easily. But we know that though infrequent, earthquakes are inevitable, and that it is just a member of time before damaging earthquakes occur again. Until that time, we can only promote policies at all levels of government to increase preparedness and strength of the built environment. This legislation helps us to do that." It also quoted bill co-sponsor Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA): "On February 28, 2001, Washington state was struck by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake, the epicenter of which was located only a few miles from my district. The NEHRP program significantly reduced the quake's economic impact. As Washington state will inevitably experience additional earthquakes, this program remains tremendously important. Considering FEMA's enormous homeland security responsibilities, it seems sensible to transfer coordination of NEHRP to NIST, which works directly with the engineers and scientists who design our nation's infrastructure. Streamlining the federal bureaucracy by transferring the administration of NEHRP will further protect our constituents from future earthquakes." (7/22/03)

In preparation for the upcoming reauthorization process, several events were recently held to highlight the important accomplishments of NEHRP in monitoring earthquakes and mitigating hazards nationwide. On February 20, 2003, the National Research Council's Natural Disasters Roundtable held a meeting on "The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program at Twenty-Five Years: Accomplishments and Challenges." The meeting brought together representatives from the USGS, FEMA, NIST, NSF, along with scientists, engineers, emergency managers, and city planners to discuss NEHRP successes, challenges, and priorities, and how it has led to advancements in earthquake research. The following week, AGI and the Seismological Society of America sponsored a USGS congressional briefing on "Earthquake Monitoring for a Safer America." Speakers included Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the USGS; Bruce Clark, a chairman of the California Seismic Safety Commission; and Richard Howe, an engineer with ABS Consulting. They discussed how the USGS and its partners are meeting the Nation's needs for earthquake monitoring and the proposed Advanced National Seismic System. (3/10/03)

On May 8, 2003, the House Science Subcommittee on Research held a hearing to examine the current status of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) in preparation for reauthorization of the program. The witnesses' testimonies positively reflected NEHRP's accomplishments, stressed the importance of improving funding to further the program, and raised concern over the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue as the lead agency now that it is part of the Department of Homeland Security. For additional information, see AGI's Summary of Hearings on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The June 2003 Political Scene column in Geotimes comments on the hearing. AGI and member society Seismological Society of America were among the signatories on a statement by the newly reconstituted NEHRP Coalition that was submitted for the hearing. It can be viewed as a PDF document. The statement also endorsed the goals set forth in a recent report by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute entitled Securing Society Against Catastrophic Earthquake Losses, also available as a PDF. (5/21/03; revised 6/28/03)

In June, members of the House Science Subcommittee on Research circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter asking other representatives to join them in asking the Appropriations Committee to provide additional support for ANSS. Although the program is authorized at $36 million annually, so far the most that has actually been appropriated to install dense networks of seismic sensors in urban areas is $3.9 million. For fiscal year 2004, the Bush Administration requested a 50 percent cut to $2 million. A copy of the Dear Colleague can be found in the AGI alert sent on this issue. The House Appropriations Committee subsequently approved a bill that would restore funding to the FY 2003 level of $3.9 million. (6/28/03)

On June 26th, House Science Subcommittee on Research Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) introduced H.R. 2608, legislation to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) for the next five years. Probably the most significant change in this draft bill from previous authorizations is the removal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA; now part of the Department of Homeland Security) as lead agency to be replaced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which would chair an Interagency Coordinating Committee on Earthquake Hazard Reduction. The bill authorizes funds for the program, including $36 million per year for the USGS's Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) initiative. The bill also would establish an Advisory Committee for NEHRP that would include non-federal members. The bill emphasizes the need for better reporting and accountability for the program, including not only a strategic plan requirement but also regular assessments by the advisory committee on the program's effectiveness. Smith has pledged to work with the earthquake research community to revise the bill in preparation for a committee vote in late July. (6/28/03)

On October 1, 2003 the House passed H.R. 2608 by voice vote. This bipartisan legislation reforms and increases funding for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). Authorizing more than $500 million through FY-2006 for this multi-agency program, the bill designates the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) as NEHRP's chair, responsible for coordinating the efforts of a number of entities. H.R. 2608 also emphasizes designing structures to better withstand earthquakes, directs NEHRP to submit an annual report to congress, and calls for the appointment of a broad based, independent Advisory Committee.

Research Subcommittee Chairman and primary H.R. 2608 sponsor Nick Smith (R-MI) reasoned that although earthquakes cannot be prevented, "we can mitigate their impact. This legislation helps us to do just that by strengthening both the focus and funding within NEHRP." Cosponsor Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) added to this endorsement, explaining that "the federal government must provide the necessary resources and support needed by those in the earthquake research community to understand the causes of earthquakes, to anticipate when and where an earthquake may happen and most importantly, how can we best prepare ourselves to survive the potentially devastating results of earthquakes."

The Senate has yet to introduce legislation that would correspond to this NEHRP reauthorization. Smith said that the Science Committee has been in discussions with the Senate Commerce Committee on the bill, and is looking forward to working with them in the coming months to complete work on this measure. The Senate is likely to hold hearings early next spring and craft their own bill, which would then be conferenced with the House version to produce a final product. The House and Senate have until the end of the 108th Congress, or December 2004, to complete their work on this bill. After that, a new Congress will have been elected and the process begins anew. (10/6/03)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation held a markup on July 22nd, which included the National Earthquake Hazards Reductions Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act, H.R. 2608, on the agenda. Along with a long list of other bills, H.R. 2608 was unanimously adopted at the beginning of the markup with the stipulation that it could be amended later in the markup session. This meant that the Committee approved the bill as reported by the House though it reserved the right to make changes later that same morning.

The changes proposed for this bill were bundled together as a manager's amendment and included tacking the National Impact Windstorm Reduction Program (NIWRP) (H.R. 3980) onto the bill, getting NEHRP authorization extended until 2009, changing the $3 million authorization obligation for performance-based standards to 10% of the "actually appropriated" funds, and slightly lowering authorization levels for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Committee, however, was not able to vote on any of these amendments due to Senator Wyden (D-OR), who invoked Senate rule XXVI(5)(a) that prohibits committees from meeting after the Senate has been in session for two hours. The use of this rule in the Committee was unprecedented and unrelated to the NEHRP bill. Senator Wyden objected to the nomination of Deborah Majoras as chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) was forced to end the markup after Wyden invoked the two-hour rule.

H.R. 2608 will now go to the Senate floor for a vote in September without the manager's amendments already attached. It is the same bill the House passed on October 1, 2003. Senator McCain assured Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) that the Windstorm bill would be brought up with the other amendments as an amendment on the Senate floor in September or introduced as a stand alone bill. (7/23/04)

Late in the day on October 6th the Senate passed H.R. 2608, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act, under unanimous consent. Included was the McCain-Nelson Amendment which effectively added H.R. 3980, the Windstorm Impact Reduction Act, onto the bill. This larger, omnibus hazards bill now must travel back to the House for their approval. It is expected that H.R. 2608 will be placed on the suspension calendar and voted on before Congress adjourns October 8th. (10/7/04)


In the mid 1970's, concern over the 1971 San Fernando earthquake and the Palmdale bulge (seismic zone in southern California) led to the formation of the Newmark-Stever Committee by the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Originally, the committee was to develop a program to understand and address the seismic hazards in southern California but was later expanded to include national earthquake hazards. The committee's recommendations were used to establish the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act, which became Public Law 95-124 on October 7, 1977. The Act established the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) as a long-term, nationwide, earthquake risk reduction program. It also designated member agencies and their activities and responsibilities.

NEHRP has supported research in several areas including: science of earthquakes, earthquake performance of buildings and other structures, earthquake-resistant structural design standards and practices, societal impacts, emergency response and recovery, regional land use planning; and education programs for the public. Member agencies in the NEHRP are the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The main focus of these agencies under NEHRP has been research and development.

In 1990, Senator Al Gore (D-TN) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977. On November 16, 1990, this bill became Public Law 101-614 and significantly amended NEHRP by refining the agency responsibilities, program goals, and objectives to include:

  • Giving FEMA the primary responsibility for planning and coordinating NEHRP
  • Conducting earthquake hazard identification and vulnerability analyses
  • Developing seismic design and construction standards
  • Developing an earthquake prediction capability
  • Preparing plans for mitigation, preparedness and response activities
  • Conducting fundamental and applied research into the causes and implications of earthquake hazards
  • Educating the public about earthquake hazards.

In November 1993, concerns were raised regarding the effectiveness of NEHRP. The program was seen as lacking a strategic plan, having insufficient coordination and implementation of research results, and lacking emphasis on mitigation. In response to these concerns, Dr. John H. Gibbons, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) directed that a report be drafted to address the concerns. The review was done by the National Earthquake Strategy Working Group (NESW), and the result was the report Strategy for National Earthquake Loss Reduction and the formation of the National Earthquake Loss Reduction Program (know as NEP).

The goals of NEP, coordinated by FEMA, included providing leadership and coordination for federal earthquake research, improving technology transfer and outreach, improving engineering of the built environment, improving data for construction standards and codes, continuing the development of seismic hazards and risk assessment tools, analyzing seismic hazard mitigation incentives, developing an understanding of societal impacts and responses related to earthquake hazard mitigation, analyzing the medical and public health consequences of earthquakes, and continuing documentation of earthquakes and their effects. In order to accomplish the goals of the NEP, the working group outlined primary objectives and goals for each of the member agencies.

FEMA Primary Responsibilities: provide overall planning and coordination; report to Congress on the status of NEHRP; review, analyze, and recommend revisions to NEHRP; provide opportunities for States, localities, private organizations and individuals to participate in NEHRP; provide assistance to States and local governments to implement comprehensive earthquake hazard reduction programs; develop and disseminate improved seismic design and construction techniques and standards for Federal, State, and local entities, and for voluntary use of model code groups and design professionals; and develop public education and awareness programs; and coordinate the Federal response to catastrophic earthquakes.

USGS Primary Responsibilities: identify and evaluate the earthquake potential of seismic areas in the United States; develop methods to predict future earthquakes, including the issuance of earthquake predictions; provide data and information on earthquake hazards and risk in urban regions exposed to the earthquake threat; and provide data and estimates of the level and character of earthquake strong-ground motion for earthquake-resistant design and construction.

NSF Primary Responsibilities: conduct research on the effects of earthquakes and earthquake motion on manmade structures and the performance of these structures during earthquakes; develop methods to design, construct, and rehabilitate structures to improve their performance during earthquakes; assess the social, economic, and political impacts of earthquakes and earthquake hazard reduction measure; integrate and disseminate earthquake research knowledge; and support basic research into the fundamental causes and conditions of earthquakes, including research on earthquake mechanisms, crustal movements, and seismology.

NIST Primary Responsibilities: provide technical support and conduct research for developing, testing and improving seismic design and construction methods; and provide technical guidance on incorporating these provisions into Federal construction practices, national standards, and State and local regulation.

NEHRP was reauthorized on October 19, 1994 by Public Law 103-374. This Act authorized $103 million for fiscal year (FY) 1995 and $106 million for FY 1996. The Act also directed the President to conduct an assessment of earthquake engineering research and testing facilities in the United States. The administration, through NSF and NIST, developed the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) to conduct the assessment. EERI made several recommendations regarding the state of the nation's earthquake engineering testing facilities. The primary recommendation among these was to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for upgrading existing earthquake engineering research and testing facilities.

On October 1, 1997, President Clinton signed into law the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) authorization bill for Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999. The law contains several new initiatives, including the development of a real-time seismic hazard warning system, an assessment of seismic monitoring networks, and a feasibility study for establishing a second emergency personnel training center on the West Coast. Increased funding levels were authorized for R&D in earthquake science, engineering, public education, and mitigation.

NEHRP was last reauthorized in 2000 for two years under Public Law 106-503 for two years. The reauthorization bill established the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) and the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS), a nationwide network of monitors to measure shaking on the ground and in buildings. The goal of ANSS is to provide real-time earthquake information -- such as location, magnitude, and effect -- to emergency response personnel, engineers, and geoscientist. The initiative hopes to reduce loss of life and property by improving our understanding of earthquake occurrences, fault activity, and solid earth structure; and by providing information on how structures on different soils respond to earthquakes in order to improve construction. ANSS was authorized for $170 million over five years program, but the program has only been funded at only about 10 percent of this level.

For additional information see the USGS fact sheet The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in NEHRP—Investing in a Safer Future and the Geotimes articles Milestones in Earthquake Research by Robert M. Hamilton and The Urban Evolution of U.S. Earthquake Monitoring by Lisa M. Pinsker.

Sources: USGS Earthquake Information website; White House Library website; FEMA website; National Science and Technology Council Report: Strategy for National Earthquake Loss Reduction; House Report 105-238; Senate Report 105-59; Seismological Society of America; House Science Committee press release; Congressional Record.

Contributed by 2003 Spring Semester Intern Charna Meth, David Applegate, 2003 Fall Semester Intern Ashley M. Smith; 2004 Summer Intern Ashlee Dere, David Millar 2004 AAPG/AGI Fall Semester Intern and Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program Staff. Background section includes material from AGI's Update on NEHRP for the 105th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 20, 2004.

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